A U.S. military command has sent an urgent request to the Pentagon to fund counterterrorism intelligence computer software for special operations troops globally, including the Palantir analytical system.
Palantir is at the center of two investigations in Washington. Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has accused the Army of making it difficult for conventional soldiers in Afghanistan to buy Palantir off the shelf because the Pentagon is protecting its own system.
The Aug. 17 request memo comes from U.S. Special Operations Command, the tip of the spear in the war on terrorism as it oversees Navy SEALs, and Army Delta Force and Green Berets.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, talks of plans to purchase an application named Lighthouse. Lighthouse can collect data sent via mobile devices such as cellphones, the Internet and radios, and send it to Palantir, which processes and stores data and then analyzes links among terrorists.
Commanders in Afghanistan have raved about Palantir’s ability to point them at enemy combatants who build and bury homemade bombs, the biggest killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“Palantir supports distributed data ingestion, manipulation and storage, useful for the analysis of Lighthouse data,” says the memo, signed by Konrad J. Trautman, director of intelligence for Special Operations Command. “Lighthouse and Palantir users are equipped to exploit structured data using link analysis [and] data mining.”
The memo adds that deployed special operations troops have an “intelligence priority for rapidly deploying a data collection, fusion and analysis system.”
Special Operations Command sent the memo to two agencies involved in funding counterterrorism equipment: the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
Special operations troops were among the first to use Palantir in Afghanistan using special funds acquired through the technical support office. The memo shows the command has much bigger plans for the Lighthouse-Palantir marriage.
By next year, it wants the two systems operational in areas where terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda seek to operate. The areas include the Philippines, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, and Central and South America.
Lighthouse was created at a laboratory at the Naval Postgraduate School by Marine Corps Capt. Carrick Longley.
The school’s website reported in April that the lab had “expanded Lighthouse to develop a resource for gathering and mapping data on improvised explosive devices and the networks that create them.”
The memo says Lighthouse-Palantir data can be fed into the Army’s huge intelligence data network, the Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS.
Mr. Hunter, a loud voice in Congress on the need to defeat roadside bombs, accuses the Army of trying to protect DCGS, which the service developed in conjunction with contractors.
Army spokesmen say tests are being conducted to determine whether Palantir’s quick link-analysis functions can be incorporated into the DCGS. The Army says its system performs many more tasks than Palantir does.
At Mr. Hunter’s urging, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the Army’s handling of Palantir, including a decision to destroy a favorable field evaluation report in April. Army officials say the report contained errors. A three-star general has been appointed to investigate the destruction of the report.
The Times has obtained a number of memos from commanders praising Palantir’s ability to help them find roadside bombs.
“Palantir has absolutely proven its utility and effectiveness for special operations forces in combat and most importantly has demonstrated its value by earning the trust of our operators in the field,” a two-star general wrote to Special Operations Command in August 2011 in an attempt to get the system inserted into the Pentagon’s annual budget.
In April 2011, the Pentagon’s technical support office received an email from a Marine Corps special operator that said: “Marines today are alive because of the capability of this system. Palantir is truly an advanced analytical all-source tool that supports both [special operations force] operators and analysts in their prosecution of the battlefield.”